In 2001, a bizarre red rain showered India’s southern state of Kerala. Godfrey Louis, a physicist now in Cochin University of Science and Technology’s astrobiology department, decided to collect samples and take a closer electron-microscope look. He noticed some particles in the rainwater that looked like biological cells, but when he went looking for DNA, he found none. That enticingly strange result led Louis to speculate that he had found extraterrestrial bacteria.
The new paper (pdf) appears in Arxiv.org, not a peer-reviewed journal. But it repeats earlier work by Louis and a collaborator that they say shows the cell-like particles can survive and grow at high temperatures that would kill most life as we know it (around 250 degrees Fahrenheit). At room temperature, particles appear as inert as, well, odd looking red rain dirt.
Scientists have proposed what seems like an obvious solution to finding life on other planets—look for pollution similar to that found on Earth. Light or air pollution would be a dead giveaway to life on another planet, according to a study to appear in the journal Astrobiology.
Of course, this is assuming that extraterrestrial life is even remotely similar to ours, and even if it is, finding the pollution won’t be easy, according to New Scientist:
Even if all the electricity we generate was used to produce light, it would still be thousands of times fainter than the glint of sunlight reflected from Earth’s surface. To reliably detect even this massive amount of artificial light on a planet orbiting a relatively nearby star—say 15 light years away—would require an array of telescopes with a combined light-collecting area of 1.5 square kilometres….
That’s about 370 football fields’ worth of telescopes.
Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) are another source of pollution that would be a tell-tale sign of alien life, according to the study. CFCs do not form naturally and absorb infrared light, so they could be observed from afar. But by looking for CFCs we’d have to assume aliens are dumb enough to spew the pollution into their atmosphere—in other words, that they’re as dumb as we are.
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Image: flickr / LabyrinthX
New Scientist says our galaxy contains about 500 Cepheid variables—giant pulsating stars. Astronomers know how many exist because these objects shine bright enough at the peak of their variability to be seen from as far as 60 million light years away. Learned says that highly advanced aliens could alter a Cepheid’s rate of variability by blasting it with something of great energy, like a beam of neutrinos. If they could control the rate, they could encode binary 0′s and 1′s into the stars, and communicate across the galaxy.
When NASA launched the Voyager spacecraft in the late 1970s, they included record players and a “golden record“—if aliens could figure out how to operate a phonograph, they could hear the beautiful sounds of human language and classical music. But forget that highbrow nonsense: Scientists from the University of Leicester and the European Incoherent Scatter Scientific Association are going to show the universe the true nature of humanity—eating Doritos.
As part of its Doritos Broadcast Project, the chip company elicited people in the U.K. to make an advertisement for E.T. A man named Matt Bowron won, and yesterday the Europeans started broadcasting the message from radar stations in northern Scandinavia toward a solar system in the Ursa Major constellation, about 42 light years away. Conventional TV stations plan to air his ad for earthling viewers during one of the Euro 2008 soccer matches.
“If I could rerun the tape of life from the origin of unicellular organisms… would terrestrial life originate at all? Would we get mobile creatures that we could call animals?”
–Stephen Jay Gould, “Fungal Forgery” in Natural History, 1993
“Are there universal laws of life, much like the fundamental laws of physics, which govern or limit the characteristics that make it–in any form–possible?”
–Blurb for “Looking for the Laws of Life” panel discussion at the World Science Festival